Days after the Obama White House said U.S. defense contractors are not required to notify employees of layoffs due to possible budget cuts, a top Republican senator says that amounts to “dubious” legal advice.
At issue is the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. The law mandates most companies with 100 or more employees to let workers know 60 calendar days in advance of mass layoffs. Major U.S. defense contractors have been warning for months they would send out layoff notifications this month, just weeks before Election Day on Nov. 6.
The White House on Sept. 28 raised the stakes in the WARN debate, issuing guidance stating the Labor Department has concluded a pending $500 billion cut to planned defense spending, which could be avoided by lawmakers, does not force defense firms to issue WARN Act notices.
The Labor Department “concluded that it is neither necessary nor appropriate for federal contractors to provide WARN Act notice to employees 60 days in advance of the potential sequestration,” states a Sept. 28 White House memorandum.
That is “because of uncertainty about whether sequestration will occur and, if it did, what effect it would have on particular contracts, among other factors: In reaching this conclusion, [department] explained that giving notice in these circumstances would waste states’ resources in undertaking employment assistance activities where none are needed and create unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty for workers,” the White House notice said.
But three days later, Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Obama of playing politics, charging the president was for WARN notices before he was against them.
“In 2007, [then-]Sen. Obama wanted to extend the WARN Act notices to 90 days, up from 60, to ensure workers were treated fairly,” Graham said in a statement. “Now, President Obama is trying to suppress the issuance of WARN notices, which will hit mailboxes right before the election. The Obama administration’s legal advice is dubious at best.
“This is typical Barack Obama politics — being supportive of the WARN Act when convenient and against it when it creates political downside,” Graham added. “This is the most outcome-based White House in memory.”
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a top defense lobbying firm in Washington, has warned if the defense cuts occur, more than 1 million jobs will be lost in 2013 alone. The White House and some defense experts question that figure, with some saying AIA’s work fails to account for a range of economic factors.